Yes, School Districts Do Hold IEP/504 Meetings and Do Evaluations During Summer

Well, summer is flying by, and if your child doesn’t have an appropriate placement at school, don’t lose hope. If the IEP/504 Plan isn’t right, many school districts seek to “protect their staff” from the instrusions of working with parents and administrative issues during summer because they are working with reduced staff. No school district is exempt from this tactic, to my knowledge. They all seem to say, “It can wait until Fall.”

Well, the first day of school with an inappropriate IEP is not an It-Can-Wait item, is it? So let’s get with it and see what we can do.

First, moderate to large school districts don’t shut down their administrative offices, and it is in these administrative offices that anything can be done for an IEP change and evaluations that might be done during school months at local schools.

How do we get that done? Letters. Phone calls. Find out who is in charge of special education at your child’s school during summer months and make it clear by phone, personal visits, and writing that your child’s issues can’t wait. Explain on the phone that your child’s access to education doesn’t exist with an inappropriate IEP or without adequate evaluations to know what is really needed. On paper, write the district that your child’s IEP is inappropriate and this is denial of equal access to his education under both IDEA and Section 504. Go ahead and use the law to back up what you say. It’s what makes them move during summer. Write that without an immediate evaluation, no appropriate IEP could be drawn up because the data doesn’t exist to make placement decisions correctly.

If your child is one who learns slowly and will have great difficulty catching up after missing months of appropriate instruction, say so bluntly. “My child will suffer a loss of opportunity to learn and will require months of remedial efforts to catch up. This does not represent equal access to learning, equal opportunity to learn, nor equal effectiveness in education.”

One of my clients went so far as to say, “Andy is not receiving FAPE with his current IEP. Continuing with this inappropriate IEP isn’t exactly child abuse, but it is mentally and emotionally abusive to keep a child in a regimen of demands he can’t cope with until he becomes emotionally ill. This is what I see happening to my child and I will use every social, administrative and legal means I can find to stop it, including complaints to the State DOE and the Office for Civil Rights.” Her child was being damaged emotionally by a do-nothing administration that had put off evaluations and appropriate IEP provisions for two years. The month she wrote this letter, there was action.

A complaint to Office for Civil Rights involves vast amounts of data collection and proof of appropriate action or justification of why no action was taken. Hundreds of man hours, hundreds of papers, forms, etc. take man hours away from their daily duties in the school district. When that threat exists, many school districts take another, harder look at what needs to be done for the child, and it is often cheaper to serve appropriately in education than to defend against a complaint to Office for Civil Rights.

I’m NOT recommending you automatically throw out such threats. If they are warranted, don’t delay. But put your self in the district’s shoes. Your child’s needs must be presented to them in such a way that it is impossible to deny what is needed. Use the law and regulations. Get your district’s procedures and quote their own rules and procedures at them. These must comply with federal and state laws, so what you need will be there. Find it and use it.

The fact that it is summer does not justify delaying implementation of special education policy and procedures.

Tell them simply: “Jason’s education is negatively impacted every day he goes to school with an inappropriate IEP. Jason is entitled an appropriate IEP every day that he goes to school, including the first day of school in September, 2014.” Then tell them when you will be in their office to sign the consent for evaluation (give them 3 or 4 business days to prepare it for you) or give them 2 options when you can be available for IEP meetings in 7 to 10 business days. Give your contact information and then mail the letter so someone must sign for its receipt–certified or registered. Or hand carry it with a notation on YOUR copy that this letter was “Hand delivered to _____ on (date)” to be signed by the person who accepts it from you.

School districts do function in the summer. If you don’t know whether your district is open in summertime and no one answers the phone, call your state’s Department of Education special education office. They will tell you if it is open for business. If it is, you just have to put your child’s case on their list of priorities.

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Prepare For Your Child’s IEP Review in May, Pt. 2

Note: As in Part 1 of this series, mentions of IEP will also include Sec. 504 and Section 504 plans.

Part 2 of Prepare For Your Child’s IEP Review in May will ask parents and guardians to think of some things that are NOT on the IEP or 504 Plan but which contribute to the quality and confidentiality.  Special education law requires that an IEP be “up to date” so that a student is receiving services and accommodations that will allow equal access to and equal opportunity for a Free, Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).  Many students need few services or accommodations beyond what is in a standard special education program, and when this is the case, reviewing or changing an IEP every year is a matter that schools and even parents may take for granted.  But sometimes school staff are given the task of keeping IEPs updated with a nearly impossible condition–do virtually all IEP reviews in MAY so the education plan is freshly prepared for the Fall semester.  If your school has only 90 students in special education, that can work.  For larger schools and larger districts, it doesn’t.  Here’s why.

1.  IEPs are “living” documents that should change as a child’s growth and maturation occur so that development of new skills and abilities as well as failure to meet developmental milestones is taken into account.  An IEP that stays the same year after year is rarely appropriate if it is rubber-stamped annually by staff who fail to evaluate and convey to parents what changes are occurring and what that means to a child’s education.

Students who grow bored and frustrated with programs that don’t work and keep them from any realistic academic success are potential dropouts.  Schools that write them off know this; to parents it’s a hit in the head when it happens because all they know is that school was always hard for their child.  They don’t know there are programs for dyslexia and central auditory processing disorder the school didn’t use, things that work, like Lindamood-Bell, Fast ForWord, Wilson, and other language therapy-based learning programs that are very costly but which are very effective.  They don’t know that when their child was faced with math, he simply shut down and scribbled on paper whatever came to mind just to be occupied while other students wrote down what they actually had learned.  They couldn’t know that every day their child went to school it was a supreme act of obedience and respect for their wishes because inside there was no reward or benefit other than seeing friends between classes and for a few minutes before and after school.  The rest was one long desert.  When such a student drops out at last, it is an effort to remain whole before a world of people who judge him or her as “deficient,” “dumb” or slow, as second-class and not worth a real effort.  Valueless.  Worthless.  A waste of space and skin.  This happens because a school district determined to “save money” left a child unable to function academically to grow up without efficient learning skills and a future of frequent or chronic unemployment.  Some students are lucky and find success in non-academic areas; there are not promises or guarantees that any student written off in this manner will achieve this.  They are the exception, not the rule.

The Point:  If your child’s IEP meeting is so short and so lacking in information that all you remember is where you were asked to sign the IEP, you need to double-check your child’s progress and achievement to be sure everything is in place that should be.  If it isn’t, find your local education advocate hat and work with him/her to make sure your child’s education is appropriate.  Hint:  15 minutes or less is NOT enough time to discuss a year’s worth of progress or failure or any combination of those or to plan effective remedies and accommodations for any child’s deficits and weaknesses.

2.  When hundreds of IEPs must be done in such a short time, some schools look for ways to speed things up.  My son’s school district chose to notify all parents by mail that their IEP review would be in the school library on X date at Y time.  When we arrived, we discovered hundreds of other families were already there waiting for their 15 minutes.  At every table in the biggest library room was one special education teacher.  The principal and special education assistant principal were “roaming”, going to the various tables as a teacher raised her hand to indicate it was time for one of them to sign that they had “attended” this IEP meeting.

Think about it.  Inadequate time for individualized planning for a child’s entire year of education.  A public setting for a confidential event.  School administrators signing off on documents that indicated they had attended the IEP meeting when in fact they had only been within 100 feet of a hurried, low-pitched request to “sign here.”  Violations?  Yes, indeed.  Violations of IDEA, Section 504, FERPA, and common sense.  Office for Civil Rights did not look kindly upon that behavior and demanded that all the IEPs be done individually and in confidential settings from the date of that correction letter forward.  Don’t let the size of your school district push you to let them railroad your child’s IEP into a circus event or another rubber-stamping of the education plan.

3.  “Sign here.”  One school in our district actually called parents in for an “office visit” at which time a school secretary handed the parent the signature page of an IEP plan and said, “Sign here.”  The parent began to examine the page and the secretary took it back.  “It’s just a school document that needs your signature.”  Again she pointed to the line.  “Sign here, please.”  NO IEP IS VALID IF IT DOESN’T REFLECT A STUDENT’S INDIVIDUAL NEEDS.  NO IEP MEETING IS ADEQUATE IF PARENTS ARE NOT PRESENT AND PARTICIPATING.

In this case, the school held a meeting and decided UNILATERALLY and without parental input or consent what should be on the students’ IEPs.  This is, quite simply, illegal.  Then they used the pages parents were asked to sign in complete ignorance.  So much for INFORMED consent!  Don’t sign anything about an IEP if you are not involved in the planning process.  Make your formal complaint to the superintendent of the district with a copy to the State Department of Education.

4.  It’s been a difficult year and the school staff tell you your child will be going to a different program in a different school next year.  STOP RIGHT THERE.  If you were not informed along the way of the difficulties and why the school staff want to consider a different placement, they are not keeping your informed and you do NOT have to consent to their one-sided decision to move your child away from the school he/she knows.  You should have been informed, given options and alternatives, and you should visit other schools before such a decision is made.  That’s IF you agree a different school is necessary.  If you do NOT agree, the district will have to take the case to Due Process before such a move can be made.  That could take 6 months or so.  Meanwhile, your child stays where he/she is.

5.  Bullying is NOT a natural behavior.  It is a learned behavior that can be unlearned.  If your child is the target of bullying, use the current emphasis on anti-bullying programs to insist the school tackle the problem head-on instead of ignoring it.  No school staff should ever look the other way when bullying is going on, and they should not be participating in it, either.

You can use an IEP to move your child to another school if bullying is a problem.  Or you can use the IEP to force school staff to counsel your child to learn to be strong and defend himself/herself against bullying; and an IEP may contain something like this:  Jimmy’s teachers will be trained in anti-bullying strategies so they can help teach Jimmy and his classmates how to end bullying.”

6.  Is your child finishing 5th grade this year?  Are you aware that 6th grade is the year when pre-college curriculums begin?  Students who are not in college-prep courses now may not be able to catch up later.  If your child has the intellectual potential to attend college but has grades that don’t even come close to showing that, the problems must be addressed with an IEP that gets right up close to everyone’s nose and in effect, says, “THIS CHILD IS COLLEGE BOUND AND NEEDS THE COURSE WORK AND SUPPORT TO GET HIM/HER THERE.”

Don’t let anyone tell you a child whose grades are A’s through F’s aren’t college stuff.  You tell them, “He’s capable of A’s and B’s most of the time if he’s getting what he needs to learn.  That’s your job.”  Of course you have to supervise the homework process and do your part to make sure he learns how to commit himself to the college goal.

There is a difference of a minimum of $800,000 in earning power between a high school diploma and a college degree.  Many post-secondary certification programs are for careers with similar wages/salaries.  Just tell yourself, “NOBODY WRITES OFF MY CHILD!”  Then work in a non-adversarial way as much as possible to push for the services and accommodations that will make college possibility a reality.

So what if he can’t read now.  He should have been reading long ago and would be if the district were doing its job properly.  This is the year you will fight to get that expensive reading therapy with a speech pathologist or a skilled specialist.  This is the year you’ll tell the school that your child can’t learn math if there are more than 4 (or whatever that number is) students in the room or in his group.  This is the year you’ll be telling them about social skills that sabotage his learning options and the need for social skills training is not to be ignored.  (By the way, your child isn’t the only one who needs this and they all know that.)  If you think your child’s IEP isn’t strong enough to get started on college prep and you KNOW your child is capable, here’s what to do.

A.  This year you’ll find an education advocate online or locally through your parent training organization (PTI, go to http://nichcy.org/families-community/help/parentgroups  or go to Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates COPAA at www.copaa.net).

B.  You’ll ask for training in advocacy skills through the PTI and you’ll find a new confidence that touches many areas of your life.  You’ll read IDEA Part B and you’ll read Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and know your child’s rights and yours.

C.  You’ll find friends who don’t judge your lack of knowledge and who applaud your commitment to your child and your determination to get the education he should have.  You’ll find your nearest Parent to Parent group (go to http://www.p2pusa.org).  You’ll gather people from these groups and who know your child and you’ll never go to another IEP meeting alone.

D.  You’ll watch your child’s skills and abilities grow and increase as the IEP guides everything toward college readiness.  If you’ve never been to college, don’t worry about it.  Lots of people have never been to Kansas City or Albuquerque or Manhattan, but there are maps.  We can get there.  The IEP is the map for your child’s college readiness.

E.  You’ll realize this isn’t a job any family does alone–indeed it truly takes a village.  So you’ll do what your child must do.  You’ll ask for help when you need it and you’ll share when others need what you know or can do.

We didn’t ask for a child with disabilities, but now that we have one, we find the challenge isn’t just to our child.  The challenge is for the entire family, for the people who work with your child.  You are your child’s cheerleader, parent, case manager.

And who is cheering for YOU?  I AM!  YOU CAN DO THIS.  WE CAN DO THIS.  ONE STEP AT A TIME.

It’s April, and May is coming.  Figure out what your child needs for the next academic year; find your helpers.  Post your success here in comments.  We’re looking for them!

 

 

 

Free Webinar on Statistics of Disability

Parents, Grandparents, Guardians,

If you want to know how things are going in the world of disability in the US, this is your chance to get the latest and greatest of reports.  Cornell University has been in our corner for years, and after intensive research, surveys, etc., there is a new report on disability status coming out and you can get your copy.  This is their entire announcement.  Read on!
\\”Disability Status Report
Free Webinar  – Register now!

Cornell University’s Employment and Disability Institute (EDI) will host a free online webinar on April 1 from 1:00-2:00 p.m. EDT to present the findings of the 2012 Disability Status Report.  This presentation will explore the Census Bureau’s December 2013 release of data from the 2012 American Community Survey (ACS) related to disability and employment, education, poverty, household income and labor earnings.

WHO: Cornell University’s Employment and Disability Institute
WHAT: Free Online Webinar on Disability Statistics
WHEN: Tuesday, April 1st, 2014 from 1:00-2:00 p.m. EDT
WHY: Cornell University researchers will present the latest information and issues associated with disability statistics and the circumstances that people with disabilities face.
WHERE: To register online for this free webinar, please go to: http://www.ilr.cornell.edu/edi/register/index.cfm?event=4794

Cornell research found that in 2012, 33.5 percent of working-age (21-64) people with disabilities were employed, compared with the 76.3 percent of people without disabilities. Moreover, researchers found that 28.4 percent of working-age Americans with disabilities lived in poverty, compared to 12.4 percent of those without disabilities. These dramatic discrepancies are longstanding and continue to separate Americans with disabilities from their peers without disabilities. The relevance of these statistics to the process of developing and maintaining policies that relate to people with disabilities in the United States cannot be overstated.

Event will be captioned for people with hearing impairments.

The Cornell University Disability Status Reports is produced and funded by the Employment and Disability Institute at the Cornell University ILR School. This effort originated as a product of the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Disability Demographics and Statistics (StatsRRTC) funded to the Employment and Disability Institute in the ILR School at Cornell University by the U.S. Department of Education, National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (grant No. H133B031111).”

Why should we be concerned with the statistics about disability?  Because our place, our child’s place, is within those numbers.  They help explain why things are as they are and sometimes they point the way to solutions.   We don’t like to know that our children face 76.3% risk of unemployment due to disability, but if we know that, we also know that we MUST advocate ferociously for schools to meet our children’s education and vocational needs.  The only “default” for adults with no employment skills is unemployment and poverty; statistics like these light our fire!

The Homework Organizer, a Very Good Friend

I do not normally endorse a product for which parents must pay. However, there is one planner which is so effective that people will even buy them used if they cannot afford them new. (There are some available through Amazon.com right now.)

Dr. Gail Mengel, Ph.D. is a public school psychologist who designed a planner called “The Homework Organizer” that addresses many of the issues I have brought to your attention. It contains a master copy page of a Grade Saver where students can record the grades for class assignments and tests to help them realize how their course of study is working for them (or not). I have examined and evaluated many organizers and this is my favorite.

You can examine it for yourself at http://www.homework-organizer.com to decide if it fits your student’s needs. While you’re there, read all of it for a good lesson in executive functioning and why we must address the development of this crucial skill set. Many disabilities that affect learning also impair a student’s ability to set priorities and achieve goals. Doing homework with the guidance of this tool helps reinforce organization, time management, and goal-setting with every small step that must be taken to arrive at academic success.

Here’s to our student with the most improvement!

Shutting Down a Nation – What Chance Does a Child Have?

Dear Everyone,

Today our elected Republicans played Dirty. They wanted to eliminate funding for our new “Obamacare” healthcare program, so they refused to authorize funding for essential governmental functions because the two authorizations are together. It is an awesome show of power, a grand display of how ignorance can be used to hurt an entire nation, how personal self-aggrandizement and ego and raise itself up above an entire nation to seek fulfillment. It makes me sick at my stomach.

Our children are the most dependent of all. Their education depends upon funds from various governmental levels to be sufficient to pay for meeting their needs. For years IDEA has been clarifying what must be done to provide FAPE for our children with disabilities, and for all those same years, legislators with more ego than brains have been cutting funding until some school districts can offer only 4 days of school per week, students must share books and therefore can do only half the learning and homework. Parents do NOT agree with this level of funding or kind of educational services, but our legislators’ children usually attend private schools and they don’t have a clue what goes on in public schools. When parents vote, it is their prayer for appropriate education, but it is getting harder and harder to achieve that.

Today we see that there are elected representatives who represent only themselves and not their constituency. The reality is that they want what they want so badly they are willing to shoot an entire nation of people down the toilet rather than compromise. There probably is a word for that kind of person in the English language, but I am a Christian and I’ve never heard it. At least I’ve never heard a word that describes my shock and horror that anyone – or any group of people – would care so little about their fellow humans that they would treat us this way. I don’t have words to describe the depth of loathing, the despair for our future, the futility of belief their actions make me feel. It just doesn’t seem human to behave in such a manner.

Seeing that there are legislators who think nothing of actively working against what the nation needs, how do our children with disabilities stand a chance? How does an individual child stand a chance?

Nobody stands a chance unless we all SPEAK UP. We can’t afford to roll over and let it happen around us. It will take us down with it. Now we have to GET OUT OF THE HOUSE AND SPEAK UP.

WRITE AND CALL your representatives and senators and let them know you support them if they fought this shutdown and let the others know they can’t be so smug about getting your vote in the next election. I’m going to ask my Republican naysayers to give me the procedures for their impeachment. (They have to do it–or they won’t get my vote.) What are you going to ask your elected representatives and senators?

Call. Write. Join the efforts of your local groups that are protesting. Make some noise. What would happen if we all drew a bullseye on our foreheads to represent how they’ve shot us all down? What if we wore that bullseye until that funding is given?

Our public officials have publicly shown us they don’t care much about their public supporters, and it’s time we publicly show them we don’t care much for their public failure to do the job. It wouldn’t hurt to say it once for yourself and repeat it in your child’s name.

ASD and DSM V

Folks, this will be short and sweet. if your child has or your suspect your child has a diagnosis in the Autism/Asperger domain, I want you to go to the article linked for you here and read every word. The new term for autism will be “social communication disorder.” It is important for us to understand that when the psychiatry profession changes how it views our child’s disability, many other things can change as well. In this case, how schools qualify or don’t qualify these children for services, whether insurance will cover their services, etc. hinge upon how these diagnostic standards are written. If you are unaware of how much potential change is coming for our children as a result of these decisions, you may be caught completely unprepared to help your child or your family. Please read the article, do some investigation, learn how you and your child are likely to be affected by this change in diagnositc standards. There may be a shift in how the public views the autism diagnoses in the future as a result of these changes–and you need to be aware of that, too. Go here: @socialthinking #The DSM-5 and #ASD: My Thoughts by Michelle Garcia Winner      http://ow.ly/axSbH.

Winner included the new DSM V criteria for the autism diagnoses at the end of the article. Read those, too and see where your child’s diagnosis is likely to fall. Does the new diagnosis describe a nice fit for your child? Or is your child bunted out of the description and likely to be left without diagnosis in this area? You need to start strategizing and working with your child’s professionals now as to how you can maintain your insurance and school benefits if the new diagnostic standards don’t fit your child well enough to qualify.

Be Your Child’s Voice–And Be Heard

http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-769273

Dear Parents,

Today I learned of a remarkable ten-year old boy with autism who is speaking out about it and making a great effort to help people know about autism and the problems around it.  He is Sam.  Please go to http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-769273 and see a sample of what Sam does that will indeed make a difference in how people in his area view autism.

Then think to yourself, if this is a ten-year old child who is able to have this kind of impact, what kind of impact might I have as an adult?  If I were part of a group of people who create awareness around our children?

This is a reality:  each of us can do what Sam does.  It is a matter of making the time and the appointments to visit organizations and important people who can influence what happens in our lives and our children’s lives.  We should all be Sam for our children and their disabilities.  Imagine what a different world this would be if so many of us were out there doing as Sam does, giving information and asking the tough questions–what are we doing for these children and their families, and why aren’t we doing more?  As Autism appears to be becoming equal in incidence to learning disabilities, we certainly cannot afford to close our eyes to any avenue or option that helps our children become more independent and more functional.

We are the parents and we may be the only voice our child has.  Sam is not silent.  We should not be silent either.

Here’s how to speak out.

Talk to school classes.  Don’t be afraid of kids.  They’re kids–and they’re eager to learn.  Difference intrigues them.  Present your what your child has in common with them and the differences in his needs in a reasonable way and they will be less likely to bully or pick on your child and more likely to make him their friend. Their teachers will be educated at the same time.  Go to MOM – Not Otherwise Specified and see how one mom has presented her son’s differences to his class.

Talk to community leaders.  Our elected officials often determine how and where and what community services will be.  It’s important to let them know what community services are truly needed.  If you think a place for children in wheelchairs to play in a park is important and needed by enough families, speak up.  If you think schools need more funding for special education, speak up.  If you know there is a need for an organization that provides special services in your community, speak up and tell your leaders who needs the services and who might provide them–and that you only need the place and funding.

Talk to legislators.  Legislators on budget committees control where the money goes.  Get your legislators to propose legislation and projects/programs and meet the needs of families with needs like your own.  Get to know legislators in important cabinet positions and who control money–let them get to know your children through letters, e-mail messages and photos, introductions at the legislators’ town hall meetings and political events.  Make your face and voice familiar to them so they know there is a need for someone THEY know.

Increase the wallop of the above.  Never go alone–make sure you’re always introducing someone new to these people so they know you’re not just a voice in the wilderness but a voice with a group or mass of people who also need what you’re requesting.  NUMBERS COUNT.

Make your presence and activities known on the Internet.  Everyone knows somebody who is internet savvy who can help us do the social media thing that makes what we do so much more powerful through Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, etc.  Please don’t think you can’t do this.  I’m a rookie and a techno-boob, and I am going to be learning right beside you.  Believe me, if I can do this, a 5-year old can do this.  USE the people you know who have this talent.  Someone you know will be immensely pleased to help you and won’t feel it’s an imposition at all.  Find that person and feed him/her all the information needed to make it work.

Shy?  Think you can’t speak publicly or to strangers?  Write.  Get on blogs, get into chats where you’re anonymous but your information sharing is powerful.  Do a telephone radio interview for a talk show where you’d basically just answer questions that YOU’ve written in advance for the show host to ask you.  The key to confidence during these events is this:  People are out there who NEED what you have to share and they won’t get it if you won’t share.  Your voice will improve some family’s life and some child’s entire future.  How can you remain silent when you can be so powerful?

Your child is not the only one who has his disability, nor his symptoms, nor the possibility of a better future if we speak up.  Let that be a fire within you, that you help your child and your family and hundreds more by giving voice to what so many people need to hear.

Then use this blog to tell us what you’re doing so others will be inspired to do the same!